TEMPLETON – A Templeton-area couple is living the sustainable agriculture lifestyle on about 60 acres of land. Kate and Jim Gurnsey hold regular jobs in the outside world during the day, returning to their little slice of Eden in the evenings to tend their garden and farm animals.
“We produce about 70 percent of what we use and consume,” Kate Gurnsey said. “We are part of the sustainable lifestyle that is becoming popular in the area. Along with farming, we also forage wild foods and go hunting on our land.”
“We lived near Butler before we found this place and moved here. It takes five more minutes to get home at night than before, but we get to come home to this,” she said, waving her hand to include a well-stocked farmyard.
A fixture at seasonal farmers’ markets and summer festivals, the Gurnseys sell a variety of soaps made mostly from ingredients produced on their land in the Armstrong County village.
“We raise a heritage breed of pig, the Guinea hog,” Gurnsey said. “We only raise a few for pork, and so the amount of lard we get from them is limited. It is a high-quality fat perfect for soap-making.”
The black Guinea hog was popular in America until about 1800 and was in danger of become extinct like its relative, the red Guinea. Small and docile, the breed is regaining favor among some farmers. Good at foraging for some of its food, it is economical to raise.
Strutting among the various chickens, goats and geese on the Gurnsey property strutted a handsome turkey named Elvis. Sporting a reddish-blonde set of feathers, a blue head and a vivid red wattle, he also is a heritage breed. Gurnsey identified him as an Auburn, another farm animal that is very rare.
A mixed flock of heritage goats munched quietly on its daily grain ration in a nearby enclosure not far from a beehive.
“We get a fair amount of milk from our does, but the demand for goat’s milk soap outstrips our supply. As a result, we also buy some from other suppliers locally,” Gurnsey said.
The Gurnseys keep a few breeds, among them the Boer goat, originally from South Africa but found around the world. The Boer is known for the quantity and quality of its meat, and the other breeds in the farmyard are relied on for their butterfat-rich milk, the key to making soap.
Gurnsey also grows a wide range of herbs that she dries and uses to decorate her handmade soaps.
“Sometime in the future, I would like to expand, learn to distill my own oils and use them in my soaps. I would also like to branch out into making healing salves,” she said.
The Gurnseys’ kitchen garden just outside their kitchen door supplies them with greens, garlic and Egyptian onions. The latter is a perennial, bearing small bulbs on its stalks. Gurnsey said that they are excellent for pickling.
The farmstead is a work in progress as the Gurnseys expand what they produce. Making money is not the sole objective, though.
“Mostly, we want to raise what we need, trading some of our products with others for things that we do not grow or make ourselves,” she said.